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Jorge Amado: 1912-2001: Brazilian Novelist

Early Works Were Political

Amado's family scraped together enough money to send their son to a boarding school in the Bahian capital city of Salvador, and there Amado was exposed to the classics of European literature. Indeed, he would one day be hailed as the Balzac of Brazil, after the French novelist who combined detailed social realism with an ebullient storytelling spirit. Another set of influences came from the north; as a child, Amado often enjoyed U.S. western films at a theater owned by a friend of his father. Brazilian director Nelson Pereira dos Santos pointed out to Variety that "Amado was strongly influenced by modern U.S. writers, who were in turn influenced by film." The director added, "He's a son of Steinbeck." Amado also professed admiration for nineteenth-century novelists Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, both masters of satire who commanded a strong popular readership.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Amado worked as a reporter and spent time with other aspiring writers in Salvador. Prodded by his father to enter law school in Rio de Janeiro, he became increasingly radicalized politically. Although he finished his law school course-work in 1935, he refused to accept his diploma. By that time he had written several novels set among Bahia's farm workers and urban slum dwellers. One of them, Jubiabá, introduced another important strain of Amado's work in its depiction of Afro-Brazilian religious life. In the late 1930s Amado traveled to Mexico and the United States, becoming acquainted with leftist cultural figures in both countries, among them African-American actor Paul Robeson. Amado became involved with Brazil's Communist Party, and served in Brazil's national legislature as a Communist deputy after World War II.

At a Glance . . .

Born on August 10, 1912, in Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil; died on August 6, 2001, in Salvador, Brazil; son of João Amado de Faria (a plantation owner) and Eulalia Leal Amado; married Matilde García Rosa, 1933 (divorced 1944); married Zelia Gallai, 1945; children: João Jorge, Paloma. Education: Federal University of Río de Janeiro, law degree, 1935.

Career: Writer, 1930-2001; Brazilian parliament, Communist Party deputy, 1946-48.

Amado's early novels were sometimes criticized as clunky pieces of political propaganda that showed little attention to characterization or plot. However, they irritated Brazil's power structure sufficiently for dictator Getúlio Vargas to order a public burning of his books in 1937 and to throw Amado in prison for three months. Capitães da areia, published in 1937, took up the cause of Bahia's homeless children, and 1943's Terras do sem fim was an epic tale of the cocoa-farm land wars in the midst of which Amado had grown up. The book drew heavily on family recollections to create a vivid cast of characters, all in the grip of the mix of money and violence that characterized Brazil's frontier.

For a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Amado was an honored cultural figure in the Communist world. After another rightward swing in Brazil, he traveled widely in both Eastern and Western Europe in 1948 and 1949, and in 1950 he moved his family to Czechoslovakia. He received the Stalin Peace Prize in Moscow in 1951, and several of his novels of this period had the flavor of heavy political tracts. Like many other Western leftists, however, Amado was dismayed by the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956 and by the repression endemic to the Communist system. Furthermore, Amado simply tired of politics and became newly enamored of storytelling. According to the Los Angeles Times, Amado said, "I made the decision to quit being a member of any political party, and decided to be a writer."

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